Lisa Reviews An Oscar Winner: In the Heat of the Night (dir by Norman Jewison)


The 1967 film, In the Heat of the Night, tells the story of two very different men.

Chief Gillespie (Rod Steiger) is the police chief of the small town of Sparta, Mississippi.  In many ways, Gillespie appears to the epitome of the bigoted Southern cop.  He’s overweight.  He loses his temper easily.  He chews a lot of gum.  He knows everyone in town and automatically distrusts anyone who he hasn’t seen before, especially if that person happens to be a black man or from the north.

Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) is a black man from the north.  He’s a detective with the Philadelphia Police Department and he’s as cool and controlled as Gillespie is temperamental and uncouth.  Tibbs has no patience for the casual racism that is epitomized by lawmen like Chief Gillespie.  When Gillespie says that Virgil is a “fancy name” for a black and asks what people call Virgil in Philadelphia, Virgil declares, “They call me Mister Tibbs!,” with an authority that leaves no doubt that he expects Gillespie to do the same.

Together …. THEY SOLVE CRIMES!

For once, that old joke is correct.  When a Chicago industrialist named Phillip Colbert is discover murdered in Sparta, Chief Gillespie heads up the investigation and, assuming that the murderer must be an outsider, orders Deputy Wood (Warren Oates) to check out the train station for any suspicious characters.  When Wood arrives at the station, he discovers Virgil standing on the platform.  Virgil is simply waiting for his train so that he can get back home to Philadelphia.  However, Wood promptly arrests him.  Gilespie accuses him of murdering Colbert, just to discover that Virgil’s a police detective from Philadelphia.

Though neither wants to work with the other, that’s exactly what Gillespie and Virgil are forced to do as they investigate Colbert’s murder.  Colbert was planning on building a factory in Sparta and his wife (Lee Grant) makes it clear that, if Sparta wants the factory and the money that comes with it, Virgil must be kept on the case.  Over the course of the investigation, Gillespie and Virgil come to a weary understanding as both of them are forced to confront their own preconceived notions about both the murder and life in Sparta.  In the end, if it’s impossible for them to truly become friends, they do develop a weary respect for each other.  That is perhaps the best that one could have hoped for in 1967.

I have to admit that it took me a few viewings before I really appreciated In the Heat of the Night.  Though this film won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1967, it’s always suffered when compared to some of the films that it beat.  One can certainly see that the film was superior to Doctor Dolittle and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.  But was it a better film than The Graduate or Bonnie and Clyde?  Did Rod Steiger really deserve to win Best Actor over Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty?  (Amazingly, Poitier wasn’t even nominated.)

To be honest, I still feel that In The Heat of the Night was probably the 3rd best of the 5 films nominated that year, superior to the condescending Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner but nowhere near as groundbreaking as Bonnie and Clyde or The Graduate.  The first time I watched In the Heat of the Night, I thought Steiger blustered a bit too much and the film’s central mystery didn’t really hold together and, to a large extent, I still feel like that.

But, at the same time, there’s a lot to appreciate about In the Heat of the Night.  On subsequent viewings, I came to better appreciate the way that director Norman Jewison, editor Hal Ashby, and cinematographer Haskwell Wexler created and maintained an atmosphere that was so thick that you can literally feel the Mississippi humidity while watching the film.  I came to appreciate the supporting cast, especially Warren Oates, Lee Grant, Scott Wilson, Anthony James, and Larry Gates.  (Gates especially makes an impression in his one scene, playing an outwardly genteel racist who nearly cries when Tibbs reacts to his slap by slapping him back.)  I also came to appreciate the fact that, while the white cop/black cop partnership has subsequently become a bit of a cliche, it was new and even controversial concept in 1967.

And finally, I came to better appreciate Sidney Poitier’s performance as Virgil.  Poitier underplays Virgil, giving a performance of tightly controlled rage.  While Steiger yells his way through the film, Poitier emphasizes that Virgil is always thinking.  As in the same year’s Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, Poitier plays a dignified character but, here, that dignity is Virgil’s way of defying the demands and expectations of men like Gillespie.  When Virgil does strike back, it’s a cathartic moment because we understand how many times he’s had to hold back.

In the Heat of the Night may not have been the best film of 1967 but it’s still one worth watching.

A Movie A Day #354: Lolly-Madonna XXX (1973, directed by Richard C. Sarafian)


In the backwoods of Hicksville, USA, two families are feuding.  Laban Feather (Rod Steiger, bellowing even more than usual) and Pap Gutshall (Robert Ryan) were once friends but now they are committed rivals.  They claim that the fight started when Pap bought land that once belonged to Laban but it actually goes back farther than that.  Laban and Pap both have a handful of children, all of whom have names like Thrush and Zeb and Ludie and who are all as obsessed with the feud as their parents.  When the Gutshall boys decide to pull a prank on the Feather boys, it leads to the Feathers kidnapping the innocent Roonie (Season Hubley) from a bus stop.  They believe that Roonie is Lolly Madonna, the fictional fiancée of Ludie Gutshall (Kiel Martin).  Zack Feather (Jeff Bridges), who comes the closest of any Feather to actually having common sense, is ordered to watch her while the two families prepare for all-out war.  Zack and Roonie fall in love, though they do not know that another Feather brother has also fallen in love with Gutshall daughter.  It all leads to death, destruction, and freeze frames.

Lolly-Madonna XXX is a strange film.  It starts out as a typical hicksploitation flick before briefly becoming a backwoods Romeo and Juliet and finally ending up as a heavy-handed metaphor for both the Vietnam War and the social upheaval at home.  Along with all the backwoods drama, there is a fantasy sequence where Hawk Feather (Ed Lauter) briefly imagines himself as an Elvis-style performer.  (Hawk also dresses up in Roonie’s underwear.)  Probably the most interesting thing about Lolly-Madonna XXX is the collection of actors who show up playing Feathers and Gutshalls.  Along with Steiger, Ryan, Martin, Bridges, and Lauter, everyone from Randy Quaid to Paul Koslo to Scott Wilson to Gary Busey has a role to play in the feud.  Lolly-Madonna XXX is too uneven and disjointed to really be considered a good movie but I can say that I have never seen anything else like it.

One final note: Lolly-Madonna XXX was directed by Richard Sarafian, who is best known for another early 70s cult classic, Vanishing Point.

A Movie A Day #191: Blue City (1986, directed by Michelle Manning)


Billy Turner (Judd Nelson) has always been the bad boy but now he just wants to return to his Florida hometown and reconnect with his estranged father.  As soon as he rolls into town, Billy gets into a bar brawl and is arrested.  The chief of police (Paul Winfield) informs Billy that his father has been murdered and that his stepmother has since married the local gangster, Perry Kerch (Scott Wilson).  Everyone knows that Perry murdered Billy’s father but no one can prove it.  He is told to get out-of-town but Billy’s not going out like that.  Instead, he gets together with his childhood friends, gimpy legged Joey (David Caruso) and Annie (Ally Sheedy), and seeks his revenge.

No, it’s not a picture of Judd Nelson hanging out with the a member of the Heaven’s Gate cult.  It’s the DVD cover for Blue City.

An infamous flop, Blue City was meant to show that the members of the infamous Brat Pack could play serious, adult roles.  Unfortunately, Blue City was released right at a time when everyone was starting to get sick of the Brat Pack.  (Even John Hughes had moved on, casting Matthew Broderick as Ferris Bueller, instead of Anthony Michael Hall.)  After countless magazine covers and the monster success of The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo’s Fire, a backlash was brewing and Blue City walked (or, in Joey’s case, limped) straight into it.

It also did not help the film’s prospects that it matched up the least interesting Brat Packer, Judd Nelson, with the member of the Brat Pack most likely to take herself too seriously, Ally Sheedy.  Playing roles that would have been played by Alan Ladd an Veronica Lake in the 40s, both Nelson and Sheedy are miscast and, strangely considering this was their third film together, have no chemistry.  Nelson, in particular, gives one of the most annoying performances in film history.  He never stops smirking, even when there is no reason for Billy Turner to be smirking.  With his wide-eyed stare and his attempts to speak like a tough guy, Nelson comes across like John Bender auditioning for West Side Story.  The scene where he manages to floor Tiny Lister with one punch is simply beyond belief.

When Judd Nelson can beat you up, there is only one thing left to do:

Thanks, Duke.

On a more positive note, David Caruso, long before he could usher in the Who by simply putting on his sunglasses, is better cast as Joey but there is nothing surprising about what eventually happens to him.  The best performance is from Scott Wilson, showing why he used to always play villains before reinventing himself as Herschel on The Walking Dead.  Wilson was so good that I realized, halfway through Blue City, that I actually would not have minded if he succeeded in killing Billy.

The most disappointing thing about Blue City is that it is a Florida noir from the 80s that somehow does not feature even a cameo appearance by Burt Reynolds.  Couldn’t Judd have taken just a few seconds during the filming of Shattered: If Your Kid’s On Drugs to convince Burt to drop by Blue City?

They could have used the help.

A Movie A Day #169: Malone (1987, directed by Harley Cokeliss)


It’s Burt Reynolds vs. Cliff Robertson.  Cliff has got the money but Burt’s got the mustache and the toupee.

Robertson plays Charles Delaney, a wealthy businessman who, with the help of a mercenary army, has bought nearly all the land in a small Oregon town.  Only the owner of a local gas station, Paul Barlow (Scott Wilson), has refused to sell.  Delaney and his men think that they can intimidate Paul into selling but what they do not realize is that Paul has a houseguest.  Richard Malone (Burt Reynolds) was driving through town when his car broke down.  While waiting for it to get fixed, he has been staying with Paul and his teenage daughter, Jo (Cynthia Gibb).  What no one knows is that Malone used to be an assassin for the CIA.

If ever there was a film that demanded the talents of Charles Bronson, it is Malone.  The tough and ruthless title character would have been a perfect Bronson role, especially if Malone had been made twenty years earlier.  Instead, the role went to Burt Reynolds, who was on the downside of his career as an action hero.  Sometimes, Burt tries to play the role as serious and emotionally guarded.  Then, in other scenes, Burt will suddenly smile and wink at the camera as he briefly turns back into the Bandit.  This is not one of Burt’s better performances.  He gets good support from the entire cast, including Lauren Hutton as his CIA handler, but, in most of his scenes, Burt comes across as being tired and his toupee makes him look like The Brady Bunch‘s Robert Reed.  Burt was 51 when he made Malone and he looked like he was at least ten years older, making the scenes where Jo comes onto him even more improbable.

Where Malone succeeds is in the action scenes.  Along with Burt’s final assault on Delaney’s compound, there is also a classic showdown in a barbershop.  Malone had a budget of ten million dollars.  How many blood squibs did that buy?  Pay close attention to the scene where two hitmen attempt to surprise Malone in his room and find out.

Malone is may not feature Burt at his best but it is still a damn sight better than some of the other films that awaited Burt once his starpower started to diminish.  Mad Dog Time, anyone?

Movie a Day #110: Femme Fatale (1991, directed by Andre R. Guttfreund)


Joseph Price (Colin Firth) was once a painter but now he is the world’s least likely park ranger.  One day, he meets the beautiful and mysterious Cynthia (Lisa Zane).  Within days, Joe and Cynthia are married but one morning, Joe wakes up to discover that Cynthia is gone and she has only left behind a brief note.  Searching for his wife, Joe goes to Los Angeles and discovers how little he knew about Cynthia.  Joe’s search eventually leads him into the world of porn, drugs, S&M, and performance art.

This month, every entry in Movie A Day has had a least one Twin Peaks connection.  Femme Fatale has two.  Joe’s best friend, a laid back artist who is usually seen painting a topless woman who sometimes wears a brown bag over her head, is played by Billy Zane, who appeared as John Justice Wheeler during the second season of Twin Peaks.  Also, Catherine Coulson (the show’s famous Log Lady) appears as a nun who provides an important clue to Cynthia’s past.

Femme Fatale used to show up on HBO in the 1990s and it is currently on YouTube.  It may not be a great film but it does have a good cast.  Along with Billy Zane and Coulson, Femme Fatale also features Scott Wilson as a shady psychologist, Lisa Blount as an actress who used to work with Cynthia, and Pat Skipper and John Lavachielli as two talkative thugs named Ed and Ted.  Both Carmine Caridi and the great Danny Trejo show up in small roles.  It may seem strange to cast the very British Colin Firth as a park ranger but it works.  As for Lisa Zane, who is Billy’s older sister, Cynthia was probably her best role.

Predictable though the movie may be, Femme Fatale is enjoyably stupid if you are in the right mood.  There should always be a time and place for the old neo noirs of 1990s.

The OA, The Homecoming; Season 1 Episode 1; ALT Title: Reincarnation and You!


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A new year is here, which means I need to get back into the saddle and get writing! The irony is that “The OA” is from 2016…. Dun Dun Dun.  The great irony is that 2016 had creative losses, but the art was amazing: Stranger Things, People of Earth, and maybe …. just maybe The OA.  I was burned before by seemingly good art that turned out to be a steaming shit show – Channel Zero.   However, the pilot for The OA seems to have all of the weird shit that should make it great.

There are parallel dimensions, Indian Mystics, Naked Bullies, Phyllis from The Office, and Brit Marling.  Side note: If Another Earth didn’t convince you that Brit Marling won the talent lottery, this will.  There are also a number of fascinating plot touchstones: visualization of the world and experiences in general through media, clairvoyance,  and spiritual connection to a multiverse, but without The Flash, and THROAT PUNCHES!

We open with a phone video of a woman jumping off a bridge.  It’s hard to watch, but she wakes and is mostly ok, but with an obsession to get online.  The video goes viral and The girl’s parents see the video and get her from the hospital.  The OA (Brit Marling) has been missing for 7 years, but The OA doesn’t recognize her parents; instead she touches her mom’s face and this act allows her to realize it’s her mom.  Why?  Because before The OA or as they knew her -Prairie disappeared 7 years ago, she was blind!  WHAAAAA????!!!!

The OA returns home to a mob scene of well wishers.  The police try to find out where she was and get nowhere, but we do know that she was with others.  She goes for a walk and sees a guy doing Jackass style stunts.   The next scene embarrassed me… alot.  We cut to a Naked Guy and Perfect Student having pretty great sex.  I’m all for sex, but when I saw this scene, I was at the gym on the elliptical and there was a lady next to me, who looked over, looked away, and shot her eyebrows up into the ceiling.  The Perfect Student opines that she just likes Naked Bully for sex and that she has a torch for a guy in choir.  HMMMM.  Okay.  We learn that naked guy is a bully too, who from hence forward shall be called Naked Bully.

The OA is lamenting her lack of wifi access.  She goes on the hunt for it and she goes to an abandoned home and sees Naked Bully is selling drugs.  The OA wants wifi access, but Naked Bully sicks his dog on her and she takes a few bites, gives a few bites, and tames the dog.  REALLY.

The Naked Bully visits the choir and they are all singing like Glee, which makes me wish that we weren’t so effective at stamping out bullying in schools.  Naked Bully follows the guy that Perfect Student has a crush on and throat punches him. BAM!  There is now one fewer acappella singer in the world … let’s all slow clap.

Naked Bully climbs up the wall to The OA’s room and gives her a pre-paid wifi router if she agrees to pose as his stepmom and convince his teacher not to expel him because if he’s expelled, he’ll get sent to a scared straight school in North Carolina.  The OA agrees if he gets five strong people together for some weird seance thing.

Naked Bully takes her to Value Village and damn it doesn’t cost much to make her look hot… Macklemore would be proud …. POPPIN’ TAGS!  At one point, it becomes clear that The OA can read minds.  Also, we learn the OA is in love with a guy named Homer…no not that one…sorry fat guys everywhere; Homer is a briefly dead football star.

She meets with Phyllis and pretends to be his step-mom.  Phyllis says Naked Bully is a bully and sucks.  The OA lays some great new-age jibber jabber and Phyllis is totally charmed.  The plan appeared to work because Phyllis gives Naked Bully a wink, but it doesn’t last because Phyllis runs into Naked Bully’s real mom at Costco.  DUN DUN DUN.

Naked Bully’s parents confront The OA’s Parents and all appears to be lost: no seance thing and Naked Bully will be scared straight- preventing him from stopping the Acapella Hordes.  What does The OA do?  She posts an eyeball video to get people to attend her seance thing.  If you light the candles….they will come.  Yep, 3 smaller part dayplayers come, Naked Bully turns down sex for it, and even Phyllis shows up for the seance thing.

Then, whammo…..roll credits!!! VERY VERY VERY COOL!

We learn that The OA started as the daughter of a wealthy Russian Oligarch (Nikolai Nikolaeff) was her single dad.  She ran in circles of extreme wealth, but was plagued with nightmares of drowning.  Her father has her go into an icy lake to conquer her fears.  This works! Later, she is on a private shuttle to school, but careens into a ravine and everyone drowns, including The OA.  She is pulled into a multiverse galaxy by an Indian Mystic Superbeing who allows her to go back to earth, but blind because she doesn’t want The OA to see what is coming.  I know this reads as some crazy shit, but it’s very well done and truly compelling.

2016, you slipped this one right under the wire and it was awesome!!!

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Embracing the Melodrama Part II #100: Pearl Harbor (dir by Michael Bay)


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“And then all this happened…”

Nurse Evelyn Johnson (Kate Beckinsale) in Pearl Harbor (2001)

The “this” that Evelyn Johnson is referring to is the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  You know, the date will live in infamy.  The attack that caused the United States to enter World War II and, as a result, eventually led to collapse of the Axis Powers.  The attack that left over 2,000 men died and 1,178 wounded.  That attack.

In the 2001 film Pearl Harbor, that attack is just one of the many complications in the romance between Danny (Ben Affleck), his best friend Rafe (Josh Hartnett), and Evelyn (Kate Beckinsale).  The other complications include Danny briefly being listed as dead, Danny being dyslexic before anyone knew what dyslexia was (and yet, later, he’s still seen reading and writing letters with absolutely no trouble, almost as if the filmmakers forgot they had made such a big deal about him not being able to do so), and the fact that Rafe really, really likes Evelyn.  Of course, the main complication to their romance is that this is a Michael Bay film and he won’t stop moving the camera long enough for anyone to have a genuine emotion.

I imagine that Pearl Harbor was an attempt to duplicate the success of Titanic, by setting an extremely predictable love story against the backdrop of a real-life historical tragedy.  Say what you will about Titanic (and there are certain lines in that film that, when I rehear them today, make me cringe), Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet had genuine chemistry.  None of that chemistry is present in Pearl Harbor.  You don’t believe, for a second, that Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett are lifelong friends.  You don’t believe that Kate Beckinsale is torn between the two of them.  Instead, you just feel like you’re watching three actors who are struggling to give a performance when they’re being directed by a director who is more interested in blowing people up than in getting to know them.

Continuing the Titanic comparison, Pearl Harbor‘s script absolutely sucks.  Along with that line about “all this” happening, there’s also a scene where Franklin D. Roosevelt (Jon Voight) reacts to his cabinet’s skepticism by rising to his feet and announcing that if he, a man famously crippled by polio and confined to a wheelchair, can stand up, then America can win a war.

I’ve actually been to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.  I have gone to the USS Arizona Memorial.  I have stood and stared down at the remains of the ship resting below the surface of the ocean.  It’s an awe-inspiring and humbling site, one that leaves you very aware that over a thousand men lost their lives when the Arizona sank.

I have also seen the wall which lists the name of everyone who was killed during the attack on Pearl Harbor and until you’ve actually been there and you’ve seen it with your own eyes, you really can’t understand just how overwhelming it all is.  The picture below was taken by my sister, Erin.

Pearl Harbor 2003If you want to pay tribute to those who lost their lives at Pearl Harbor, going to the Arizona Memorial is a good start.  But avoid Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor at all costs.

Review: The Walking Dead S4E09 “After”


 

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“I know we’ll never get things back to the way they used to be.” — Rick Grimes

We finally see the return of AMC’s very popular horror series, The Walking Dead, after a couple months on hiatus. Last we saw the series seemed to have done a sort of reboot of season 3’s season finale. A season finale that people thought would include not just the Governor’s assault on the prison, but the scattering of Rick’s group to the four winds. Season 3 didn’t end as expected and to say it was anti-climactic would’ve been a major understatement.

So, out goes Glen Mazzara as showrunner of the show and in comes Scott M. Gimple as head honcho for season 4. The change has been a nice change for the series which can’t seem to get on a consistent narrative track. Sure, it’s had major moments when it’s best thing on TV at that given moment, but it’s a far and few.

Gimple has done a much better job this season of letting the characters grow and let them dictate how the season unfolds. The zombies continue to remain the main threat (this season has shown them to be even more dangerous than in season’s past) but now interpersonal conflict adds a new level of complexities to keeping everyone safe and alive for one day more.

The first half of the season saw many new characters introduced (some given to more time to develop while others just cannon fodder) and some leave and some die. The biggest exits happening to be that of Hershel and the Governor himself. Both end up getting their ticket punched in the very assault on the prison that fans of the comic book have been wanting to see since the end of season 3. With that reboot of last season’s finale out of the way and with Rick and his group surviving out in the wilds in their own separate ways we now come to the start of the second half of The Walking Dead season 4.

Tonight’s return starts off pretty much moments after episode 8 with the prison now in flames and zombies pretty much roaming everywhere. We get Michonne returning to find something or someone. In the end, she ends up finding two zombies she turns into armless and jawless pets to help her blend in with the rest of the herd. She also manages to find Hershel’s reanimated head which she destroys and leaves behind but not before pausing for a moment to remember al that she has lost once more.

The episode jumps back and forth between Michonne’s time spent after fleeing the prison and those of Rick and Carl. The father and son duo are having a much tougher time. Rick is too injured from his fight with the Governor and their supplies of ammo and provisions are next to nothing. It doesn’t help that Carl’s resentment towards Rick has come to the surface after the disastrous events at the prison.

This episode was really about Michonne and Carl dealing with the events from the previous episode. Michonne has seen the group she has begun to see as a family scattered everywhere and a place that was becoming home destroyed. Worst yet would be seeing Hershel, who she was beginning to connect with, killed before her eyes. This causes her to revert back to how we first saw her in season 3. Alone once again and dragging along two zombie pets to keep her safe. Maybe being alone and away from any sort of emotional attachment would be best for her, but her own subconscious makes it finally known to her that this is not so.

She could sleepwalk through the rest of whats left of her life in this post-apocalyptic world or try and retain some of the humanity and connection with others that she was having within Rick’s group. Or she could just give up and end up becoming like the very thing that has destroyed the world. We see this in a sort of flashback dream sequence where we finally get some backstory on Michonne and her life before the fall of civiization. We now know where she got her original pair of zombie pets and why she had such a strong reaction to holding baby Judith back in the prison. This flashback Michonne was not the badass, katana-wielding survivor we’ve come to know the past two seasons, but one who seemed well-to-do with a nice family and a young son.

Like everyone else in this new world order she has lost just as much as everyone else, yet she seems to have found a way to adapt and prevail while others fail and die or succumb to their basest instincts. In the end, she chooses to get back what she had lost fleeing the prison and the zombie salughter she initiates in doing so seemed not just cathartic for her character but for the audience as well.

As for Carl, we see him attempting to deal with his current situation on his own. His resentment toward his father’s inability to protect him, Judith and everyone at the prison has begun to gnaw at him. He sees Rick as a failure not just as a father, but as a leader. His needling of Rick by mentioning Shane’s name and everyone who has died under his watch sounds like harsh truth being exposed, but also makes Carl come across like a rebelling teen trying to prove to his father that he is better than him. As we see throughout Carl’s segment, he can take care of himself, but he also has so many close-calls that his bravado makes him out to be like a teenager playing at being an adult when everyone knows he still has further to go.

Yet, as much as Carl might not be ready to cut off the parental strings, Rick understands that continuing to treat Carl like a regular kid who must be protected from the dangers of the world doesn’t belong in this new world. The Carl that Rick was searching for in the first two episodes of season 1 is no more. His son has become not just a veteran and capable survivor like him, but one who has left his childhood behind in order to be more helpful.

The Walking Dead will always be about the zombies and how this new world has danger for it’s survivors lurking in every home, building and shadows both zombies and humans. Yet, the show, especially this season, has tried to explore what this world has done to these survivors and how it’s either brought out the best, worst and everything in-between. We’ve seen characters fail to live up to the very ideals that allows one to keep a hold on their humanity while others succeed. Tonight we saw two survivors who have made a sort of peace with their situation and now moving forward to try and live one day more.

As the tagline for the second half of season 4 points out: “Don’t Look Back”.

Here’s to hoping that the show’s writer take that motto to heed and continue to look forward instead of looking back trying to fix what needed fixing. The show is now halfway through it’s fourth season and, for good or ill, it needs to move ahead with what it has established and let the audience decide whether they should continue to watch week in and week out.

Notes

  • Tonight’s episode was written and directed by The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman and series producer Greg Nicotero.
  • The cold opening for tonight’s episode was almost scene for scene out of the comic book with the exception of Hershel taking the place of Tyrese.
  • It was nice to see Aldis Hodge in the role of Michonne’s lover and father to her son. He was great in Leverage and nice to see him back on the small screen.
  • Michonne’s dream flashback gave us some answers as to her past, but it still doesn’t answer the one important question: where she got the katana and how did she got so proficient with it.
  • Still no word on baby Judith.
  • Talking Dead Guests: series producer and KNB FX head honcho Greg Nicotero and Michonne herself, Danai Gurira.

Season 4

Review: The Walking Dead S4E08 “Too Far Gone”


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“We’re not too far gone. We get to come back.” — Rick Grimes

[some spoilers]

The Walking Dead had it’s mid-season finale over this past Sunday and like previous mid-season and season-ending finales of the past three season this one went for the gut-punch. Season 4 of the show has seen a major improvement in how the writers were finally treating some of the major characters on the show.

The first five episodes were pretty much using a plague situation within the prison community to explore the growth of some of the lead roles in the show. We saw how Rick tried to escape the burdens of leadership by attempting to just be a farmer and a good role-model for his son Carl. It didn’t necessarily work out the way he wanted it to. In the end, Rick finally realized that leadership was what the group needed from him and what he was really best suited for.

We saw a major character shift in one of the show’s less realized characters in the past meek Carol Pelletier. This season we see how she has grown into becoming just as much a cold, calculating survivor as The Governor, but still retaining some of the humanity the latter seems to have lost when the zombie apocalypse happened to the world. It was a surprise to see Carol in such a new light. A person who would do anything to protect the group with special attention to the young children — especially two young girls — who have survived this far into the zombie apocalypse.

Then we had Hershel finally get to have his time in the limelight. Episode 5 has been a near-unanimous choice as the strongest episode of the first half of the season and nothing about the mid-season finale changes that. That’s how good “Interment” really was in the overall scheme of this new season’s first half. We saw Hershel finally become the show’s moral center but one that didn’t have the rigidity of ideals that Dale had. Hershel kept his humanity but also knew that this new world meant having to put one’s life on the line and not just pay lip-service to one’s ideals. I know that Dale would’ve done the same, but we never truly saw him put it all out there. He was great with the speeches, but the writers could never have him act on them. With Hershel they were able to reset the show’s moral compass and write the role properly.

The last two episode saw the return of The Governor. It was a peculiar two-parter which focused only on the return of Season 3’s main villain. Scott M. Gimple and his crew of writers tried to dial back the cartoonish way the character had become a villain by the end of Season 3. They tried to put the character back on the road to redemption. They even gave him a new surrogate family with a young girl who looked eerily like his previous daughter pre-zombie. Yet, while the attempt was an interesting one the character arrived full-circle to the very Governor we first met in the early episodes of Season 3. He wasn’t as mustache-twirling evil that he had become by the end of last season, but that redemption road that episode 6 and 7 was all about ended up being a red herring.

Now, we come to the mid-season finally which literally reset’s the finale of season 3. It was a finale that was underwhelming at best. The war between Rick and the Governor never truly materialized. This was finally rectified with the arrival of the Governor and his new band of camp followers but this time he has a tank. It’s a scene straight out of the comics and it was one that readers and fans of the books have been waiting for years to happen.

“Too Far Gone” marks a turning point for the series in that we finally leave another fixed location but do so with some major characters never to return. It was an episode that started off like a sizzle reel of every complaint detractors have about the show. Dialogue that went nowhere and just seemed to spin the episode’s wheels to fill time. Yet, as the episode progressed the entirety of the first half’s story-arcs began to take shape.

Rick was willing to share the prison with his worst enemy. He wasn’t too far gone that he would put himself as innocent of doing some heinous things to survive. He might not like the Governor, but for the sake of both groups not killing each other he would swallow his pride and accept everyone. The prison has room for everyone and the didn’t need to interact. It’s a major character growth for Rick who always saw his group as the good guys in any conflict. But like any leader he was getting tired of the battles that hurt only the survivors. The real threat were still the zombies who were slowly gathering outside. Hershel’s reaction to finally seeing Rick realize that one didn’t have to sacrifice their humanity to survive in this new world was one of the most poignant scenes in the series to date.

What followed it moment’s later would become one of the most heart-wrenching scenes of the series and one fans of the books were dreading to see.

Hershel was the MVP of this season’s first half and it was only appropriate that he went out in such a memorable, albeit very gruesome manner. It’s not often we see someone decapitated on any tv show. What had been an episode that threatened to meander just the way the finale of season 3 ended up doing instead became a final 20-minutes of intense action that saw both groups fail to hold onto the prison and the survivors scattered to all points of the compass. In the comics, this particular story-arc saw Lori and Judith die just when readers thought they were about to be safe from the battle. With Lori already dead a full season ago the only question which remained during this mid-season finale was whether the writers would actually pull off the unthinkable and do the same to tv version of Judith.

Children have never been seen a sacred cows on this show, yet infants seemed to remain safe. The episode ends with the question of whether Judith is dead or alive hanging in the air. It’s to the visceral power that this show brings to the table that peope will wait the near to three months of hiatus before the show returns of the second half of season 4. The show will remain one that’s obsessed over by the general population while derided by a minority who have valid complaints about it.

“Too Far Gone” could almost be the motto of this show. Any sort of major change on how the show’s stories has been told might be too late to implement. The fans like the show for it’s violence, gore and the soap opera stories. It’s not perfect television, but it is television which seems to have grabbed, caught and held the attention of not just the American tv viewing public but the global tv viewing public. Maybe, it’s just time to just make the that decision each viewer has to make. Either stay on the ride and hold on until the rollercoaster ends or jump off now and forever hold their peace.

Season 4

Review: The Walking Dead S4E06 “Live Bait”


TheWalkingDeadS4

“And I ask for no redemption in this cold and barren place.” — Ben Nichols

[some spoilers]

Season 4 of The Walking Dead, from the very beginning, has been exploring the theme of whether those who have managed to survive this far into the zombie apocalypse could ever return to who they were in the past. Could they return from the brink of having to do some unthinkable acts in order to survive? It’s this running theme which has dominated this first half of the season, so far.

We’ve seen Rick trying to leave behind the “Ricktatorship” of Season 3, but only to find out that this new world won’t allow him to go back to the way he used to be. He has changed, and so has everyone, some of the better and some for the worst. We’ve seen several main characters of the show go through this very crucible and some have turned out much colder while others have seen their moral center strengthened.

The series has been hinting that the Governor was still out there and last week’s episode ended with a sudden reveal that he’s back and has now set his sight back on the prison. While quite an ominous moment considering the Governor’s past actions towards Rick and the prison group, tonight’s episode has put some ambiguity on what the Governor’s agenda in regards to the prison really is.

“Live Bait” is the title of the latest episode of The Walking Dead and it takes a risky move by concentrating on the Governor only. We don’t see Rick or anyone from the prison community. This episode was all about the Governor and what happened to him after his failed attack on the prison in the season 3 finale. We already know that he massacres pretty much every member of his attacking force with the exception of his two most loyal lieutenants in Martinez and Shumpert. We see during the episode’s cold opening the total breakdown of not just the Governor but also the full destruction of everything he had built with Woodbury both literally and symbolically.

Yet, we don’t see him continue his rampage against those who he sees as having been the architect of his downfall. We see that he has blamed no one else but himself for turning into something that Rick and his people always feared he was: a charismatic, but psychotic leader who would destroy anyone and everything if he can’t have it. Tonight’s Governor has come a long way from Season 3’s version. Tonight he’s become a wandering, disheveled loner who looks to have more in common with the very zombies he hates. He’s on automatic with the barest sense of survival in his mind. Yet, just when we think he has finally given up the image of someone in a second floor window of an apartment complex peaks his curiosity enough to want to live another day.

This begins the meat of this episode as we see the Governor encounter a family who has survived the past year of the zombie apocalypse on their own. A family of a cancer-stricken father, his two daughters and a granddaughter. A group that has managed to survive without having learned just exactly how to destroy zombies they encounter and the true nautre of the infection.

For some this latest episode was too much talking and exploring the state-of-mind of the Governor, but it was actually a very strong episode that shows not every week has to be action-packed. While the episode (written by series regular Nichole Beattie) wasn’t very subtle about having the granddaughter becoming a stand-in for the Governor’s daughter, Penny, it still doesn’t diminish the fact that we see a sort of reset on the Governor as a character. The almost cartoonishly villain that the character had become by the end of Season 3 looked to be getting a sort of rehab to something that retains some complexity. This is not crazy Governor tonight, but a damaged individual who doesn’t see redemption in the future for the sins he had done in the past.

By episode’s end we see him having built a sort of surrogate family from the two daughters and the granddaughter who took him in, but his attempt to try and escape his Woodbury past (going so far as to use a name he had seen during his aimless wanderings) goes for naught as we see his past literally come back to confront him from the bottom of a pit. Like I said, not the most subtle episode, but for the most part the ideas and themes explored stick the landing.

Now, time to see if the sudden change in the Governor in his road to redemption will continue with the next episode which, hopefully, will catch up to the reveal of him watching the prison in episode 5. Some may decry the loss of lunatic Governor, but I prefer my villains to be much more layered in their personalities and motivations. The Governor has come out of this latest episode a sympathetic villain, but who might still have that dark side just waiting in the shadows of his psyche for a chance to assert itself.

Notes

  • Tonight’s episode was written and directed by series regular Nichole Beattie and series newcomer Michael Uppendahl.
  • The barn spraypainted with the name Brian Heriot and instructions for this unseen individual on where to go was another reminder of how much the world of The Walking Dead has lost in terms of society and civilization.
  • The first episode of The Walking Dead where the original cast (those that still remain) don’t make any sort of appearance.
  • This episode also marks the very first flashback-only episode of the series.
  • The characters of Lilly and Tara look to be this show’s version of two characters from the comics and the novels. Lilly was one of the Governor’s loyal supporters in the comics while tv version of Tara was much closer to the novel version of the same name.
  • When the Governor gives the sisters his name as Brian it’s a little detail that fans who have read the novels know as the Governor’s real first name. Philip is actually the name of his brother whose identity and personality he takes.
  • The episode didn’t have much zombie and gore until the end and much props to KNB EFX for finding new ways to kill zombies. Best kill of the night being the use of a femur bone to rip off the head of zombie by pulling back it’s top jaw off violently like a pez dispenser.
  • Talking Dead Guests: Ike Barinholtz of The Mindy Project and David “The Governor” Morrissey.

Season 4